Wounded veteran first to receive donated home in WV
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Bruce Burgess grasped an oversized key to his new mortgage-free home on Wednesday.
It was a gift from the Military Warriors Support Foundation.
The foundation has given away more than 300 homes in 35 states since 2010. It plans to donate another 300 this year alone.
Burgess' home is the first to be donated in West Virginia.
Appearing at Charleston's Haddad Riverfront Park to surprise Burgess were Lt. Gen. Leroy Sisco, founder and CEO of the foundation; Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; spokespersons for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.; and Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito.
Burgess is a U.S. Army veteran who lives in Martinsburg and is studying communications at Shepherd University. He said he has referred other veterans to the program and always hoped someone in West Virginia would be chosen.
"It makes a significant impact and helps everyone with everything from health care, to education, to employment," he said.
"I have pushed behind the radar for West Virginia to finally have a portion of the program in our state. It finally came to fruition.
"I can't say how happy I am for it ...We're just the perfect place for this. We have so many wounded veterans coming home."
Ever since he was a child growing up in Dunbar, Burgess wanted to be a solider.
He served for 10 years, rising to the rank of staff sergeant. His ventures took him across the globe.
He conducted bomb disposal operations, and disarmed, neutralized or destroyed improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
Blasts from IEDs caused him to suffer traumatic brain injury. They also caused visual impairments - blind spots, sensitivity to light and focusing difficulty.
The foundation honors combat-wounded heroes and donates homes that have been renovated to make them accessible to those with handicaps. They are valued at between $150,000 and $250,000.
The homes go to families in severe or unique circumstances because of the soldier's injuries. The families also receive three years of mentoring on homeowner skills.
Burgess said the new home would provide him with stability.
"It helps with employment, education, health care access," he said. "In the military, we move frequently across the globe, across the nation. It's nice to finally put down roots somewhere permanently and truly become a permanent part of the community again."
It will improve his access to health care, he said.
"There's a lot of specialty health care I'd like to obtain," he said. "I'm in Martinsburg, so I'm close to D.C. for that health care.
"But the pressures of supporting my family kind of prohibited me from having the time to access health care options. This will take some of the financial pressures off me."
Burgess has received numerous awards, including the Combat Action Badge, Bronze Star, two Explosive Ordnance Disposal Badges and an Army Commendation Medal.
Manchin thanked veterans for putting their lives on the line for their country and said he was happy to see West Virginia represented in the program.
"This is the first for West Virginia, but I guarantee it won't be the last," he said.
Honorary guests Wayne and Deby Kyle, parents of Chris Kyle, the late U.S. Navy SEAL known as the most lethal sniper in American military history, presented the gift in honor of their fallen son.
The foundation also announced a promotion with Ticketmaster. People who purchase tickets for live entertainment at ticketmaster.com can donate $5 to the foundation. Ticketmaster also will provide a direct link to the foundation's web site so people can donate any amount they choose.
The organization also announced the launch of its newest program, Homes4GoldStars, which will allow spouses of fallen heroes to apply for homes. The organization hopes to donate 500 such homes.
Anyone who would like to submit the name of a wounded vet for participation in the program can visit http://militarywarriors.org.
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